Getting things done
Dr. O’Loughlin’s first few years at the ADA were largely dedicated to strengthening the finances of the Association, ensuring all audits came out spotless; cultivating the relationship between the Board of Trustees and the House of Delegates; improving the communication between state dental associations; and increasing workplace engagement.
Dr. Preble said that when dealing with volunteer leadership, Dr. O’Loughlin was able to put before them choices about what was the best for the ADA and helping cut through some of the unnecessary politics.
“Kathy has brought a real business mindset to the important work of the ADA,” he said.
ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., added that working with Dr. O’Loughlin this past year helped solidify opinions he had on her when he served on a strategic planning committee in the first year of her tenure.
“She leads with knowledge, focused dedication to outcomes, volunteer and staff engagement and persistence,” he said. “Those attributes have established a culture of success at the ADA.”
One of the things Dr. O’Loughlin said she’s most proud of is making people enjoy coming in to work every day. In 2019, the ADA was named a top workplace by the Chicago Tribune based on employee surveys. The ADA employees, she said, have simply been her favorite part of the job.
“I’m not making that up,” she said. “The employees here are funny, smart and passionate. They produce such great work that is not always recognized and valued by the volunteers. But I see it.”
Under Dr. O’Loughlin, the ADA revamped its employee advisory committee.
“They used to have meetings where no one would say a word,” she said. “Now, we basically meet once a month and they tell me how to run the place.”
Suggested by Megan Anshutz, who worked at the ADA from 2005 to 2011, Dr. O’Loughlin also created the ADA’s social responsibility committee and asked Ms. Anshutz to lead the group.
“I was always looking for additional projects and Kathy was immediately supportive of my desire to grow and learn,” said Ms. Anshutz. “It was a great opportunity for me to gain some management experience while also focusing on projects to help the ADA staff contribute to the Chicago community.”
The committee has organized volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, created tutoring programs and donated to the food bank.
“The first time I heard the term ‘servant leadership’ was when I overheard her describe her leadership style,” Ms. Anshutz said. “I came to understand that this approach to leading meant focusing on her staff’s needs and removing barriers they encounter, when possible.”
The ADA as a well-oiled machine was never clearer than when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Dr. O’Loughlin said.
“We immediately put things in place to make sure dentists, their dental team and patients were safe,” she said. On March 16, 2020, the ADA recommended that dentists postpone all but emergency and urgent care.
When dental practices reopened two months later, the ADA helped make sure dentists were eligible for all the federal loan programs to help dentists with the loss revenue.
“The last 18 months of COVID, I think, have been emotionally draining and intellectually exhausting,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “But everyone here has worked hard and gotten things done.”
Maine is calling
When Dr. Cohlmia takes over the role this year, he’ll have a few challenges of his own, including finding better ways for the Association to engage with a diverse group of younger dentists, completing the ADA’s digital transformation, and of course, navigating the ongoing pandemic.
“But I can say that I’ve never met a person more compassionate and with more passion for the profession [than Dr. Cohlmia],” said Dr. O’Loughlin. The two have been friends since Dr. Cohlmia served on the ADA Board of Trustees. “When people get to know him, I know they’ll just adore him. And when he does well, we all do well.”
Dr. O’Loughlin said she’ll make sure the transition is smooth.
And after that? Well, Maine is calling.
Dr. O’Loughlin and her husband, who retired 10 years ago, plan to fully enjoy living in Saco, Maine, a small town about 20 minutes south of Portland, Maine. It’s named after the Saco River, which starts in the mountains of New England and runs all the way to the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic coast.
“We used to canoe down that river,” she said. “We vacationed there with our kids for 20 years and decided that when we were ready to retire, that’s where we wanted to live.”
In addition, many of Dr. O’Loughlin’s very large family live in the region, while others continue to visit every summer and winter.
Retirement plans are mainly filled with spending time with her children, two grandsons and six siblings, and over 20 nephews and nieces, she said. Dr. O’Loughlin added she would like to volunteer or serve in some capacity in organized dentistry.
“I might work a little. I love the organization, and I’d be happy to do it,” she said. “But plans right now are all about fun and family.”